We’re heading into the dog days of the offseason, counting the days until the Chicago Bears 2014 season kicks off. Thanks to contributor and the fine editor of Blackhawk Up Keith Schultz’s suggestion, we’re going to do a Top 100 list of the all time Chicago Bears. It’s a fun way to pass the time and take a stroll down memory lane.
The Bears drafted Tommie Harris out of Oklahoma 14th overall in the first round of the 2004 draft. Harris was an ideal fit for the 3-technique defensive tackle in Lovie Smith’s cover 2 scheme. He had good size at 6’3, 295 and ran a 4.68 40 yard dash at the combine. His combination of size, power and speed was unique and the Bears got lucky that he fell to the 14th pick due to injury and off-field concerns. Harris made an impact right away with the Bears. He earned a starting job as a rookie and finished the 2004 season with 48 tackles, 3.5 sacks and finished 2nd in the defensive rookie of the year voting behind Jonathon Vilma.
In Harris’ second season with the Bears, his numbers actually declined from his rookie year, but he still made his first Pro Bowl. In his third season (2006) Harris got off to a great start with 5 sacks in the first four games. He was the NFC’s defensive player of the week twice in the first four weeks of the season and forced a fumble late in the Bears week 3 game vs the Vikings that got the ball back for the Bears in time for Rex Grossman to lead a game winning TD drive. Harris’ production tailed off after the first 5 weeks, but he was still a disruptive force in the middle of the Bears D and anchored what had become the best defense in the league. Unfortunately Harris was hurt in week 13 of the season and missed the rest of the year and the Bears playoff run and Super Bowl appearance. The Bears defense was noticeably worse without Harris and who knows how that Super Bowl would have gone had the Bears had their most dynamic defensive lineman. Despite missing five games, Harris still was elected to his second consecutive Pro Bowl.
Harris had his best season in 2007 , staying healthy for all 16 games and finishing the year with 8 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and his 3rd consecutive Pro Bowl nomination. Unfortunately the Bears struggled that year despite Harris’ solid play and finished the season 7-9. After the 2007 season the Bears awarded Harris with a 4-year, $40M contract extension making Harris the highest paid defensive tackle ever.
Harris had a solid season in 2008 with 37 tackles and 5 sacks, but was hampered by a knee injury suffered in 2007 that he had played through. He only missed two games in 2008 but seemed to always to be questionable on the injury report and was noticeably less explosive than he was early in his career. The injury continued to plague Harris throughout the next few years and his performance dropped off significantly until he was finally benched early in the 2010 season in favor of Henry Melton. Harris was then released after the 2010 season as $10M was way too much to pay for an injury prone back-up. Harris signed with the Chargers in 2011 and showed signs of life with 3 sacks, but missed 3 games due to his balky knee and retired after the season at the age of 28.
Harris had a great run with the Bears from 2004-2008 and was an ideal fit for Lovie Smith’s scheme. He was the motor that drove the one of the best defenses in the league from 2004-2008 and the first Bears team to make the Super Bowl since the 1985 season. Injuries derailed a promising career, but he was one of the best defensive lineman in the league during his healthy prime and he was a key piece of the Bears defensive revival under Lovie Smith. Who knows what would have happened if Harris had stayed healthy during the 2006 playoffs. Harris finished his Bears career with 213 total tackles and 28.5 sacks. His contribution to the Bears was short-lived, but he was one of the best DTs in the league during the 00’s and deserves a spot on this list.